THE BOTTOM LINE
- Nightmare disorder causes recurrent and vivid nightmares
- This parasomnia can lead to mood changes and suicidal thoughts
- Learning coping mechanisms to break your negative associations with sleep can help reduce nightmare disorder episodes
If you’ve experienced recurrent and vivid nightmares that cause you to be afraid to go to sleep at night, you might be dealing with more than just a regular nightmare. Experiencing nightmares is extremely common, but when it’s happening very often, causing you distress and disrupting your sleep, it’s more than likely due to nightmare disorder.
What exactly is nightmare disorder?
Nightmare disorder is a REM-related parasomnia, meaning it occurs during stage 4 (REM sleep) of your sleep cycle. You can determine if your nightmares are due to nightmare disorder if you check the following boxes:
Nightmares occur very frequently
Nightmare content is extremely emotionally intense
Nightmare content causes major distress during the day
Nightmares cause bedtime anxiety (fear of having another nightmare)
Daytime fatigue and problems with concentration or memory
Intense fear of the dark or other bedtime-related behavior problems
How common is it?
Research suggests that approximately 4% of people are affected by nightmare disorder.
Can it impact my health?
This parasomnia can have an impact on your health in a number of ways:
Mood changes: Due to anxiety or depression from dreams that literally haunt you.
Suicidal thoughts: One of the great things about waking up from a nightmare is that “it’s just a nightmare” and you can go on with your life. However, recurrent nightmares that depict a real-life traumatic event aren’t as easy to brush off. This can easily cause very negative and dark thoughts, even suicide attempts in some severe cases.
What causes nightmare disorder?
The cause of nightmares is not well understood, but nightmare disorder has been found to be linked to episodes of trauma. Nightmare disorder is common among people who suffer from PTSD. Commonly occurring after a serious accident, injury, or physical and sexual abuse.
Can it be treated?
If you believe you might be suffering from nightmare disorder, you should talk to your doctor about speaking with a mental health professional or a sleep specialist to learn coping mechanisms for dealing with the underlying cause of your nightmares.